The spin rates of the Turbo Bumblebee and other yo-yos and the effect of different light sources on radish seedlings were among the science projects brought to MIT last Tuesday by some 200 seventh- and eighth-grade students from the Cambridge public schools.
The children were joined by about 200 MIT student volunteers who talked to them about their projects and led them on tours of MIT laboratories for the sixth annual MIT/Cambridge Science Expo. The non-competitive Expo included T-shirts for all and culminated with a Battle of the Robots presented by MIT students.
"We want to encourage the students to pursue science, and show them how interesting it can be and how much fun they can have," said freshman Anita L. Chaudhuri. Ms. Chaudhuri was co-coordinator of the event with Ashok C. Chander, a sophomore in biology.
After the students set up their projects -- which were displayed on posters with titles like "Flower Power" and "It's Alive" -- they divided into two groups. One group toured MIT labs to view the "cool stuff" going on there; the other stayed with their projects to discuss them with MIT student Science Evaluators.
The latter exercise could not have been quick work: most projects came complete with working hypotheses, a list of materials used, experimental results, and sometimes photos, graphs, and bibliographies. The two groups eventually switched so everyone could tour labs and meet with MIT evaluators.
This year the students toured the MIT Museum, the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the wind tunnel, the cyclotron building and the Edgerton Center. They could also drop by a number of demonstrations in the Johnson Athletics Center, including one on magnets by Mr. Magnet (a.k.a. Paul Thomas of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center) and one on MITee Mouse, a robot that traverses a maze. (The robot was run by David Otten, a principal research engineer in the Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems.)
"Oh wow! It cut those corners like it was Knight Rider or something," said one student watching the MITee Mouse demo.
At the closing ceremony, the students were addressed by Cambridge Mayor Frank Duehay; Bobbie D'Allessandro, superintendent of Cambridge schools; and MIT's Paul Parravano, assistant for community relations in the President's Office.
The first Science Expo was organized by the Educational Studies Program in the spring of 1993. Since then it has been run annually by the Public Service Center and its staff of MIT students following essentially the same schedule and goals. The Expo has been steadily increasing in size each year as the event is increasingly recognized within the Cambridge schools and around MIT.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 13, 1998.